Mitigating Zim’s load shedding albatross

TO a great section of the Zimbabwean population, electricity has always been thought to be a natural phenomenon.

There is no doubt that most Zimbabweans began to appreciate the consequences of electricity shortages at the advent of the massive load shedding now a daily affair since 2007.
In Zimbabwe, electricity is produced in power stations at Kariba, Hwange, Harare, Bulawayo and Munyati. Not all these power plants are currently in full production for various reasons ranging from obsolescence of equipment to lack of spares. The current peak demand for electricity in Zimbabwe is 2 200 Megawatts.
However, total capacity is only 1 320 MW resulting in a huge shortfall that forces the country to import power from neighbouring Sadc countries at great cost. Regrettably, the Sadc countries themselves to which we are interconnected  have no excess power to export to Zimbabwe, hence the forced load reductions the utility has had to resort to, switching off whole communities in mining, domestic, commerce and industry.
Load shedding is the albatross around their necks that mining, domestic, commerce and industry have had to contend with at great cost to productivity, appliance safety and competitiveness on both the local and export markets. The question to ask is: What can we, the consumers, do to alleviate the situation?
Indeed every consumer of electricity can play a major part in reducing electricity consumption and with it, the need to import non-existent power and thus forcing the utility to resort to load shedding. In domestic households stoves, incandescent lamps and geysers are the largest consumers of power. Although an electric lamp rated at 40 – 100 watts may not appear to be much on its own, the picture starts to change when one considers that there are over six million of these lamps in Zimbabwean homes today. If all these lamps were replaced with energy savers, the country would stand to save over 200 MW of power. This alone would significantly reduce load shedding to many communities.
Furthermore, if consumers took the initiative to install control devices so that their geysers are off at peak times as well as the times they do not need the hot water, the country would stand to serve a further 250 MW plus. These two interventions alone would free enough power equivalent to the entire Hwange Power Station Unit 1 – 4 with a combined 480 MW installed capacity. The installation of solar water heaters would greatly enhance these energy saving measures.
Industry too has a lot to do to save power. Many industrial machines run from induction electric motors. Motors would greatly reduce power demand if AC (alternating current) or DC (direct current) drives were used to control them. Power factor control is a major energy saving intervention that ensures that a plant consumes only the energy that is absolutely real and productive. Many in industry have had to dispose of spoiled raw materials due to power that has been switched off abruptly while at the processing stage. This has caused massive losses to industry and commerce affecting local and export competitiveness of Zimbabwean made products.
The government, power utility and the regulatory authority Zesa have an important part to play in this matter. Zesa has accumulated massive debts from regional utilities, importing power that is utilised inefficiently by the end consumers. All these debts will have to be met by the consumer through taxation. They add on to the national debt, seriously impacting on the nation’s profile, international perception and credit ratings. The regulatory authorities need to take seriously the requirement for a coordinated demand side management programme in Zimbabwe.
Authorities need to offer rebates and incentives to communities that voluntarily commit to self-regulated electricity demand reduction. Demand management is a preferred route because it is the cheapest mode of delivering a virtual power plant in the shortest possible time. Six million energy savers equivalent to 200 MW could be deployed to replace energy inefficient incandescent lamps within a period of six months at a cost of about US$15-US$20 million. Whereas a new 200 MW power station would need five to seven years to build at a cost of US$300-US$450 million, an investment that Zimbabwe is currently ill equipped to finance.
The energy problems affecting Zimbabwe have inspired industrial innovation and productivity in the process of finding lasting solutions. Some Zimbabwean companies have taken a lead, producing the devices required for efficient energy management and thus advancing the quest for industrialisation in the country. Lack of power affects everyone directly or indirectly. Energy saving is therefore in the interest of everyone for, there will never be a developed Zimbabwe without adequate electric power.

This article was prepared for the ZNCC by Lovemore Gowe Mukono, chief executive of  Mukonitronics (Pvt) Ltd. He is contactable on:

gm@mukonitronics.co.zw, or tel: (04)759442-6.